After long delay, the MN Orchestra is back to play

The 15-month lockout over pay has finally ended, but resolving the dispute took much too long.

by Keelia Moeller

After months of turmoil, the Minnesota Orchestra’s recent announcement that it will play Carnegie Hall this spring hints the ensemble is back on its feet.

The orchestra ended its 2012-2013 musical season after rejecting a proposal to reduce its members’ pay by 32 percent. The labor dispute eventually led to a 15-month musician lockout, and the resignation of Osmo Vänskä, who had conducted the orchestra since 2003.

The lockout ended after negotiators developed a three-year deal that cuts the salaries and benefits of players by about 15 percent. While this is not ideal for the musicians in the orchestra, it’s an enormous improvement from the initial 32 percent proposal. Additionally, although it took a few performances and negotiations, Vänskä is leading the way once more.

In 2011, the Minnesota Orchestra was ranked as one of the top paid orchestras in the country, with Vänskä leading as the highest-paid conductor. Despite the new contract, the orchestra will still be among the “Top Ten” orchestras regarding pay scale. With Vänska back as the conductor, this agreement is hardly a setback for the performers.

By signing this agreement, the Minnesota Orchestra began its new season. Minnesota’s beloved ensemble currently includes 77 members instead of the full 95. However, by the end of the next three years, at least seven more members will be hired.

Despite lower finances and ensemble numbers, Carnegie Hall recently revealed that the Minnesota Orchestra is back on its schedule.

The Minnesota Orchestra has also developed a new show for 2015: “Shakespeare Winterfest.” These performances will include selections from Tchaikovsky’s “Violin Concerto” to Mendelssohn’s “Overture to ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream.’”

While the talent of this ensemble is undeniable, it is unfortunate, though understandable, that financial rank contributes so much to their willingness to perform. Hopefully this time around they will be here to stay.